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« Review: The Last Jedi | Main | The 2017 Animated Contenders: "Birdboy: The Forgotten Children" »
Saturday
Dec162017

FYC: Tracy Letts in Lady Bird

by Ben Miller

Tracy Letts directing your attention to Greta Gerwig at the Lady Bird premiere at TIFF

As a father, few things bring me greater joy onscreen than portrayals of loving, supportive fathers. Tracy Letts’ performance in Lady Bird is my favorite on-screen dad in years and years (though we'll get to other fine portrayals of onscreen dads of 2017 in a later post).

Letts plays Larry McPherson, the patriarch of Lady Bird’s clan.  He is shrouded in a bushy beard and balding head which characterizes him in his late 50s/early 60s.  In reality, he’s only 52.  At 6’3”, he towers over every character.  Despite his frame, Larry is nothing but heart and warmth...

Tracy Letts and Laurie Metcalf have very different parenting styles in LADY BIRD

Saoirse Ronan’s Lady Bird argues throughout the movie with her mom Marion, her best friend, her mom, boyfriend #1, mom, boyfriend #2, mom, her brother and mom again.  Larry always gets to be the good guy.  When Lady Bird and her mom are done fighting, he gets to soothe them both.

Letts aptly plays the subtext that's so rich with Larry throughout Lady Bird.  This includes looming unemployment, serving as the constant go-between for his wife and daughter, and fighting a longstanding battle with depression.  But don’t worry about Larry.  His job is not to be a nuisance or cause conflict.  He stays out of the way.

Letts relished the chance to play against type.  Speaking with the LA Times, Letts says:

I’m 6-3, I’ve got a deep voice, a certain, I don’t know, gravity or something that people see, so they want to put me in a suit and have me order drone strikes. This part was delightful, because it’s temperamentally much closer to who I really am. I’m not a guy who actually orders drone strikes, I’m a guy who likes to sit and read the newspaper.

That delight shines through, even when he is only reading the newspaper.  An early scene features Lady Bird arguing with her mother over undercooked eggs for breakfast.  As they go their usual 12 rounds, Lady Bird also argues with her brother and his girlfriend over their vegan lifestyle and leather jackets.  The scene ends with everyone storming off from the table and Larry happily reading his newspaper throughout the scene.  He never interjects and is never asked to interject.


Larry’s goal is happiness.  He wants his wife happy, his son and his girlfriend happy and he especially wants his only daughter to be happy.  Lady Bird asks people to knock before coming in her room, Larry does it.  She asks to be let off a block down from the school, he does it.  She wants to go to an East Coast college and she needs financial aid help, Larry is there.

The amount of vitriol spewed back-and-forth between Lady Bird and her mother is almost overwhelming.  Larry’s presence is crucial in giving credence to both sides of the shouting.  Not only does he get to be the good guy for Lady Bird, he gets to be the good guy for Marion.  He always gets to win with his ladies.

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Reader Comments (22)

Letts is wonderful in Lady Bird. It’s a subtly melancholy, lived-in,character, and if you think about it, shockingly rare: a good father and man who doesn’t turn creepy or sentimental.

For me the most surprising and moving performance was the one by Lucas Hedges, who was so different from his teen lothario in Manchester by the Sea.

December 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterOwen Walter

Tracy Letts is awesome in that film as he is just this air of kindness that is just trying to do what is right and also get that job knowing he's in a new world. I actually felt for him and I liked his scenes with Saoirse.

December 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Donald Sutherland in Pride and Prejudice still remains my favorite movie dad of all time but this is a close second

December 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Letts is wonderful. It’d be a great and welcome surprise if he shows up. (Much, much better than the men of Three Billboards).

December 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

Maybe Letts or Hedges will take up tt last spot if the luv for Lady Bird surges?

Could be:
Dafoe
Rockwell
Jenkins
Hammer
Letts or Hedges

I doubt the supp actor race has room for both Call Me's men, Harrelson has a betta chance than Stuhlbarg in sneaking in, but i hope not as he will def split the votes goin to his co-star.

December 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

I would love an Oscar morning surprise for Letts.

December 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I know it’s an extreme long shot but I loved Colin Farrell’s in Roman J Israel esq. if Denzel gets in maybe he can pull him along in supporting actor

December 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Also, his Doritos line is one of the best-delivered in a film positively overflowing with brilliant line readings.

December 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

His “Aw fuck” when Hedges spills the beans is one of the best movie moments this year. I died,

December 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHolly

He sure is marvelous! I wish both he and Hedges were earning more rec this awards season.

December 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

i love how Greta always looks just a little stoned

December 17, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterkris

It's never going to happen but I would honestly be happy if this film received FIVE Oscar nominations for acting.

(Saoirse Ronan, Beanie Feldstein, Laurie Metcalf, Lucas Hedges,Tracy Letts)

December 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

Brad: could not agree more. Hedges breakdown scene is something to behold.

December 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

Brad - left off Chalamet!

December 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Brad - I completely agree, especially with regard to Beanie Feldstein. I look forward to watching her in many films in the future!

December 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

A nomination for Letts would be a great surprise, he was also wonderful in The Lovers.

December 18, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

I love Tracy Letts in general, and absolutely adored him in Lady Bird. He just aces every scene, so much so that I almost wanted to see an entire movie just about him. It's a small miracle that Gerwig gave every single character room to really shine, and Letts shines just about as bright as Ronan and Metcalf, without nearly as much screen time.

December 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

Lovely piece, and Letts' performance may have been my sleeper-favorite, maybe because it is getting overlooked next to the Ronan-Metcalf duo (both of whom I adored as well).

I didn't realize he was that big, though it's true I've seen him in mainly menacing/malevolent roles. This was definitely a refreshing change of pace.

December 18, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

Saw Lady Bird tonight and agree that Letts was aces as Dad MacPherson. That scene after his job interview, that scene when Marion was angry and he was playing solitaire in the computer, and his cupcake birthday cake to Christine were all beautiful beautiful beautiful. The film is well-acted from all the lead and supporting characters. Why is this film not in conversation as Best Ensemble?

December 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

Jonathan- Why would Chamalet deserve a nom for his role in Lady Bird?

December 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBee

Holly, I just saw Ladybird and while I was feeling familiar pangs the entire time, the "aw fuck" moment was when I realized HOLY CRAP, I WAS WATCHING MY FATHER.

It's a beautiful and subtle performance.

December 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

Thank you for this.
While I admit to not readily knowing Tracy Letts' name, when I left the theatre after seeing The Florida Project, the first thing I said was "if this performance (Willem Dafoe) is garnering award wins, where the hell is the dad from Lady Bird??" It is one of only a handful of performances this year that I keep randomly thinking about. It is subtle, yes, but so unbelievably effective. I'm clearly missing something about the Dafoe performance, cause for me, without question Tracy Letts (a name I will never not know again) should be the one steamrolling his way to a nomination.

December 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTroy

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